Five Points, Vol. 1 No. 3Spring / Summer 1997
From Ann Beattie, “It’s not that the right people ever notice things; it’s the wrong people.”
There's A Bird Hung Around My Neck: Observations on Contemporary Southern Poetry
Southern poetry, according to Professor William Harmon, writing in The Mississippi Review (1993), might as well be written by Star Trek Klingons. It includes everything from “My Achey Breaky Heart” to Maya Angelou but bears no particular signature. If Harmon is right, poetry has divorced the life that spawned it and the poet is hardly, as Emerson hoped, “a mirror carried through the streets, ready to render an image of every created thing.” Emerson’s remark reminds us of the value of regionalism in poetry that inevitable strives for a transregional life. William Carlos Williams called this quality in poetry the “local.” Something more resonant than idiosyncratic expressions or Philly steak sandwiches, the local is easily dismissed by readers with an excess of university education, the form-blinded. Once a student asked me why Robert Frost wrote so often about birch trees. Few Southern students have seen a birch tree or passed through New England where birch is ubiquitous. When I told the student Frost’s birch was his loblolly pine, he knew something deep in Frost’s view of existence that resonated through local awareness. A living poetry is written only by poets immersed in a coherent culture. Their poems illuminate and challenge that culture’s life. But a good poetry must first of all be real poetry.